Jackson Hole in Wyoming can almost guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Jac, as the locals call it, is about 2,000 metres (6,000) feet above the valley floor. Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, a short drive from Jac, boasts one of the longest, steepest continuous vertical drops of any ski area in North America. When you see it, you realise why people come here.
I don’t ski, so why did I come? Jac offers plenty for the non skier too –
I flew in from Atlanta a few days after Christmas to be greeted by a white wilderness dotted with Christmas lights. Utterly magical.
Jac sits just below the 64-kilometre-long Grand Teton mountain range. At about 300 metres (1000 feet) higher than Mt Aorangi ( MT COOK, NZ), they really do tower majestically above you. There are eight peaks over 3,000 metres (10,000 feet), with the highest topping 4,000 metres (13,770 feet).
For the non-skiers there are numerous trendy boutiques, lots of outdoor clothing stores and really, really good coffee. The Jackson Hole Roasters are up there with the best of them. There are candy stores, jewellery stores showcasing local artisans’ work, and numerous galleries from traditional to very contemporary.
Restaurants are plentiful, running from cheap and cheerful through to fine dining. The Snake River Grill is a must-dine,, budget permitting. Their grilled ‘Buffalo ‘Bone In’ New York Steak’ is a memorable dish and the Chocolate Soufflé is well worth the 20-minute wait. More casual and equally famous is the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar with bar stools made from authentic leather cowboy saddles.
Jac has the big hotel chains, but I chose The Rusty Parrot, a 38-room boutique hotel and day spa. They would come and lite the log fire in my room…any time I asked, that was a new experience for me. Their restaurant Wild Sage was booked every night – do try the bison short ribs.
Out of town, nestled on a hill looking towards the Grand Tetons is the Armangani, a luxury hotel, 5-star plus, with private chalets adjacent to the hotel. I lunched there and watched the hardy souls swimming in the heated outdoor pool as the snow fell.Unfortunately they have a five night minimum stay in December.
Enough of the luxury living, it’s time to get out into the wilderness. First stop – the National Elk Refuge spread over 24,700 acres (10,000 hectares). The elk come down from the mountains to the safety of this vast farmland where they are protected and fed during the coldest winter months. Along with the elk came Big Horn Sheep the size of a small cow, and white trumpeter swans. Mule deer wandered through town, but the moose proved elusive despite others seeing them. They were camera shy I decided.
The above image has recently been named a finalist in the Sydney Festival HEAD ON Landscape Awards. 4 prints available POA
Their is an amazing Wildlife Gallery on the outskirts of town featuring a beautiful stone building and numerous large bronze sculptures such as the one below. Also a very good cafe for a spot of lunch. In the town centre their are also many wonderful galleries to enjoy.
This really is a state of extremes. I drove out to the town of Kelly where the odd thermal area creates warmer places for animals to congregate. At the Lake Jenny dam, three fishermen stood in snow up to their knees.
Time to head for Yellowstone by bus and snow truck. The roads are closed to private cars during the winter months, and I could see why as we drove through snow drifts along the way. You leave in the dark at 6.30am and you return to Jac in the dark at 5.30pm, but the hours in between were full of wonder – and wonderful photo opportunities. Old Faithful performed every 90 minutes within a 15 minute range. A well-trained geyser, for sure. No buffalo, said our guide, it’s not cold enough. It was minus- 2 degrees C.
“Be ready to retreat,” said our guide. I wondered how we’d retreat from a 900kg male that can hit 55kph and pivot quickly. I had visions of being tossed in the air and wolfed down for breakfast. It wasn’t to be. Our buffalo raised one eyebrow at us and walked away.
Buffalo – also called bison – are a bigger problem than bears when it comes to safety. With the bears safely hibernating, our threat level was halved. According to a 2000 study, Yellowstone’s bison are more dangerous than its bears. The study found that bison had charged people 81 times over 22 years, killing two. Anyway, the trip home offered walks to beautiful waterfalls and views of the Snake River.
- Visit year-round for stunning scenery and animals. Mid-November to early March if you’re a skier.
- Yellowstone in winter offers magic winter scenes and great photo opportunities. Try to avoid summer when more than three million tourists arrive.
- Jackson Hole Airport is served by several airlines with connections across America
- Air New Zealand to Houston then United to Jackson Hole
- Accommodation runs from the top of the luxury scale through to backpackers. I stayed at The Rusty Parrot